A Bit About Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are a beloved flowering shrub here in the south.  Here at The Family Tree we carry over 30 types of hydrangeas and get many questions about what to plant where, how to plant and how to maintain the plants from season to season. One of the top questions we get is “How do I properly prune my hydrangeas?”  It’s a great question to ask since the different varieties need pruning at different times of the year.

To know when to prune you will have to know what type your plant is. There are three main types of hydrangeas: Big leaf hydrangeas (lace-caps and mop-heads), Panicle Hydrangeas, and Oakleaf .

BIG LEAF HYDRANGEA Hydrangea macrophylla
This class includes mopheads such as Nikko Blue and Bloomstruck and lace-cap like Twist and Shout. Big Leaf Hydrangeas have large, thick, serrated leaves and typically upright growth habit.  They prefer filtered shade. They won’t flower well in all shade and may wilt in too much sun.  They don’t deal well with wet feet so give them good well drained soil.  Fertilize with a fertilizer specifically for roses and hydrangeas.  You can change the color of your flowers on Big Leafs by adding soil acidifiers to make them blue and lime to make them pink.  Prune immediately after flowering (if you feel it’s necessary).

This plant produces gracefully arching branches and pyramidal clusters of white in June-August, then pink-tinged in the fall.
Grow in moist, but well-drained soil, in sun to partial shade. Noteworthy panicles are Limelight, Little Lime, Quick Fire, and Strawberry Vanilla.  H. paniculata blooms on the current season’s wood; it may be cut back to a few buds to form a framework in spring to produce larger flowers, or allowed to grow with minimal pruning.  These varieties look great in fall when the rest of the garden starts to get ready for winter.

The Oakleaf hydrangea is a dramatic, white-blooming shrub with four seasons of interest.  Large oak leaf shaped leaves turn a beautiful burgundy in fall with large white cone shaped flowers in summer turning pink in fall.  Flowers make wonderful dried cut flowers for arrangements.  It blooms best in areas where summers are somewhat hot.  Oakleaf hydrangeas thrive with very little attention. Bloom occurs on old wood. Prune if needed immediately after flowering (little pruning is usually needed).  

Hydrangeas don’t necessarily have to be pruned other than to cut out dead branches or to keep them the size that you want. So start by tiding up the plant by removing the old blooms. Snip off the faded blooms just below the flower head and remove any additional pieces at the soil line. Big Leaf form next year’s flower buds in late summer/early fall so to reduce the risk of removing these buds for next year’s flowers, prune just as the flowers begin to fade.

In a Nut Shell:

  1. Summer pruning after flowers fade
    • Oakleaf and Bigleaf or Florist Hydrangea-Bloom on old wood so prune immediately after blooming. If you wait, you may not get blooms the next year.
  2. Late winter early spring pruning
    • Hills-of-Snow or Sevenbark Hydrangea
    • Peegee Hydrangea
    • Tea of Heaven
  3. Prune as needed to control growth
    • Climbing Hydrangea


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